Wide Awake with Billy Joel & Howard Stern

Nov 18

It’s 6:25 on Thursday morning and I’ve been awake for almost 24 hours. Sleep is a challenge for me when I have a lot on my mind – the endless list of things I have to do, the struggles my son is having in school, the pile of laundry and household clutter that’s talking to me, the website that still needs products added to the store, the holiday craft fair this weekend where I’ll be selling the jewelry I make, the bills that need to be paid when I’m not sure where the money’s coming from… these are the things that keep me up at night; that won’t let my brain quiet down and rest, restore, work out some of the possible solutions.

So instead of trying to relax and meditate in the quest for sleep, I chose to stay up with my beloved husband Joel and listen to the recording of Tuesday’s Howard Stern show where he interviewed Billy Joel. For the past two hours I’ve listened, riveted, to every question Howard asked and every word Billy spoke – and most especially every single note he played on the piano. And every time he played, I cried. And I mean I cried – tears streaming, unable to speak. It caught me by surprise because I didn’t know where it was coming from.

And then I remembered.

Piano. My heart’s native tongue.

The Billy Joel concert I went to in Birmingham when I was 14.

I grew up listening to Billy Joel. He’s always been one of my favorite musical artists. His first album, Cold Spring Harbor, came out when I was just four years old, and I can remember hearing She’s Got a Way on the radio. By age six, I was able to listen to a song on the radio and then peck it out on the piano, eventually playing the melody by ear. Billy Joel was the reason I wanted to be a concert pianist when I grew up; why I had the dream of playing in New York’s Carnegie Hall; why I asked for (and received) a piano for my seventh birthday. I still have that same piano today, 36 years later – it’s right next to my desk, calling to my heart, pulling my hands toward its ivory keys.

And then I remembered.

Piano. My favorite “place” when I was younger.

My Nana spending summers with us, humming and singing along as I played The Entertainer and any Hoagie Carmichael songs I could learn

That piano is what led me when I was fourteen to¬†Huntingdon College, where I met Dr. Harald Rohlig, the man who introduced me to Bach, Beethoven, and Liszt; and ignited the spark of non-conformity in me; challenged me NOT to do what I “should” do, but instead do what was in my heart, what I knew to be my truth.

And then I remembered.

Piano. A painful reminder. A soulful salvation.

My brother Blake playing alongside me, singing Piano Man out of tune and having a blast.

Me, not playing anymore after Blake died in 1991.

Me, two months ago, re-awakening my love and passion for music, returning once again to my ebony and ivory refuge, fingers touching the keys for the first time in years.

The “a-ha” that next Saturday, November 27th, will mark 19 years since my brother’s death. It creeps up on me every year, knocking me sideways, unsuspecting. At least there was an early warning signal this year.

The two-hour interview Howard Stern did with Billy Joel was honest, authentic, real and exactly what I needed to be listening to while unable to sleep last night/this morning. It was sacred time, space and tears shared with my husband; time that strengthened our bond and sense of “us”.

It was also a reminder of what’s in my heart, and that it’s been too long since I last stretched my fingers along those piano keys. And the realization that, no matter what’s going on in my life, keeping my fingers still or my piano silent just simply isn’t an option anymore.

“They say that these are not the best of times, but they’re the only times I’ve ever known. And I believe there is a time for meditation in cathedrals of our own … For we are always what our situations hand us; it’s either sadness or euphoria.” ~ Billy Joel; Summer, Highland Falls

So, what about you? What keeps you up at night? How do you handle sleepless nights? Any Howard Stern fans? Any favorite Billy Joel songs?

Thanks, I look forward to reading your comments!

One comment

  1. Lori Finnigan /

    Hi Dana

    What a heartfelt, bare-your-soul kinda post. Those A-Ha moments always catch us off guard, don’t they?

    I am so glad you have returned to the piano. It sounds like a special way to honor and remember your brother and a perfect outlet for those sleepless nights or those moments of “stuck-ness”. You have dusted off one of your life’s passions and made it a part of your current life-it doesn’t get much better than that (imho).

    My husband is a musician (keyboard player), and I am pretty sure he could literally not live without his hands or his ears. No way.

    On a side note, Howard Stern used to be on the radio here in Indiana but he didn’t last long. That was the best morning radio show, and I am still bummed I don’t get to hear him anymore.

    Thanks for sharing this wonderful story. I definitely feel for your worries-we have alot of the same ones :)


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